Monday, September 9, 2013

LOCAL2013: Voter Guide for Artists

I wanted to keep you more in touch with what the League of Independent Theater has been doing for this election (NYC city-wide). I got too tied up to blog about it. (I will likely blog more about it once the election passes).

However, I have put together this voter guide based on who the League of Independent Theater has endorsed in this election. Print it out, take it with you, and make your voice heard.

(For more background, go to the League's website and see the list of candidates we've endorsed, the platform that those politicians have endorsed, and our endorsement videos, like this one:)

See more at the site!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Is Theater Inherently Elitist?

Question: Is Theater Inherently Elitist?


Theater is labor, resource, and real estate intensive.

Theater must therefore be expensive to recoup its costs.

Or theater must rely on the patronage of an elite who can support it.

Theater cannot be mass produced, so it must appeal to specific, local audiences.

Theater is inflexible in format -- you must show up at the appointed time, and view it for the appointed length of time.

Mass produced media is less expensive to create, less expensive to consume, easier to distribute, and easier to consume.

I notice that most of the blogs answering this elitism question seem to be caught up in the content of the plays. Probably because they're written by writers, who are concerned with the writing.

I'm a producer, so I'm interested in how plays are produced, so the answer to that question seems pretty obvious to me.

Friday, June 14, 2013


Another part in our continuing series on Shit You Should Know.

It's an election year.

It's an important election. (Mayor, a majority of city council seats, and many other positions are open and competitive -- meaning the city politics could pretty drastically change).

It's really hard to get good information.

That's why you should know about:

  • What it is: A very easy to navigate web guide to find out who is running for what positions, and recent news about them. (They also operate a useful Twitter feed).
  • Why you should know about it: Because this election is big and complicated but it's also going to determine who is going to piss you off with bike lanes and massive development projects and etc. (By the way, if you want to know who on that list is pro-arts, keep an eye out for the League of Independent Theater endorsements).
  • Why you should know about it now
    • The election is coming up swiftly and really, the primaries will settle most of everything by September 10th so now is the perfect time to get involved.
    • If you do check out DecideNYC and are as happy with their quality local coverage as I am, contribute to their project like I did today. Quality local coverage is hard to sustain, as New York sees all too clearly, so support it where you can!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

REVIEW: 3 Kinds of Exile

Typically, I don't enjoy writing a negative review -- I try to find the positive in the production, or I don't write a review at all. I figure that usually a bad play -- if it made it far enough to be seen -- is either a good idea trying to climb out of poor execution (in which case I focus on engaging with the idea and how to better present it), or a bad idea that I don't engage with (in which case I don't feel like a bad review would contribute much.

I also don't write bad reviews because I try to approach reviewing with a semblance of humility. I have only just read Isaac's self reflection on the rush to make harsh judgment, and I worry about stepping over the line myself.

So why am I about to write bad words about John Guare's 3 Kinds of Exile, now playing at the Atlantic Theater Company? Because, as a fellow theater producer (albeit a much less successful one) I have honest questions about how this reached the stage on front of a paying public, in one of New York's premier theaters without anyone raising an eyebrow.

This Goes Beyond Bechdel
Suppose you and one of your friends get together and decide to write a staged biography about a striking actress you knew (Elzbieta Czyzewska). Would you really decide that the best way to present her life would be to have two men talk about her, occasionally imitating her, rarely quoting her, and instead rattling off a series of facts about her life in chronological order? (For 40 minutes?).

The theme of the biography is (so near as I can tell), that Elzbieta was given short shrift by directors and producers who constantly promised her big come-back roles, but never delivered. (Included in that number is a young playwright named John Guare, who seems fairly sad that he was forced to cut her from a play he wrote specifically for her).

And here she is, one more time, being presented to an audience without truly bringing her voice in the space. A few moments of imitation, but otherwise, she is quite literally an object, a portrait invoked at the beginning and end of a long story.

That's the content of the second of the three acts. (The first is a monologue by a man about himself, so there's not really much room for a woman there, apparently).

What about the third act? There are female actresses in there. They get two moments:

1) A moment where the lead character is pronounced to be attractive by two ladies, and they try to sleep with him.
2) A bride whose only line of dialogue, repeated, is "Fuck me."

Seriously. There's a female character who can only say "Fuck me." And yes, it's in context of a criticism of traditional marriage. But I really don't think that's enough! Not when it's basically a punchline in a long series of gags.

Somewhere, in a full 100 minute piece about exile in which there are female characters -- one of which is about a real-life female person -- there has to be more than three lines to encapsulate their experience, more than a few quick gags to capture their voice.

Am I the first person to ask this question? How did this play make it all the way to a major venue in New York today without someone along the way raising an eyebrow?

The Magical Other
The third act is basically the story about how a sexually repressed Polish exile finds his way to Buenos Aires, and a tempting Latino seduces him away from that rigidly structured world. This tempting Latino is presented as being magical -- hypnotic, satanic.

Guys, I'm not crazy here, right? Did nobody wikipedia this?

It's Kind Of Hard Out Here For an Artist (What?!)
So, that's already two big problems that seem to me that should have been huge liabilities before this play made it to the stage. There's another one that sticks out to me, which is that both the second and third acts are tragic stories of unrealized, victimized artists.

Don't get me wrong -- if you're a true master, you can make a good tortured artist story. Amadeus is probably a good example in that genre. I'm willing to let Sunday in the Park with George slide, mostly on the back of its music.

But for the most part, the staggering majority of "tortured artist" stories tend to be exercises in self-indulgence; here, the self-indulgence goes so far that John Guare, as an actor playing the role of John Guare in the play written by John Guare, refers in the third person to a character in the story who is John Guare. At which point a projection of John Guare is visible, as though we don't get that the person standing in front of us describing the story is the same John Guare.

Both protagonists in the second and third acts are presented as will-less victims, buffeted by their fate, misunderstood by their peers and family and lacking all agency in the world around them. Which is as negative an impression of artists as you could devise. And very little that is sympathetic is provided about them either. Instead, we are simply asked to connect to their suffering because it is suffering, and because artists are noble creatures that should not be in pain, I guess.

All of this, as well as the overly long span of time that the three pieces take up and the repetitive, over-explanation of the messages and morals in each of the pieces (replete with unending rhetorical questions), indicate to me that John Guare was basically allowed to do whatever. It has a very unedited feel; my play-going companion detected a distinct "undergraduate thesis" vibe. 

I don't know how it got here. I don't know how it edged out the thousands of equally competent playwrights and plays that are circulating out in the world. I'm not sure how the bizarre casting, the uneven acting styles, the offensive choices, etc. were allowed to stand in a venue with those kind of resources.

My god, what Taylor Mac or Aaron Landsman or Sarah Ruhl or Susan Lori-Parks or a thousand other people could have done.

I want to end my review by honoring the people who worked on this. Genuinely. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth to trash a production, knowing the time and dedication that came from a talented group of performers and designers. I'm just baffled how this incredible wealth of resources came to be marshaled for this production.

(As required by law, here is a disclaimer that I got the tickets for free.)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Julius Lester on Gossip

Monday, June 3, 2013

LOCAL2013: **ACTION ITEM** Support LITNY's Endorsed Candidates

The following is a press release from the League of Independent Theater, who are endorsing some key political players who are running for office -- all of whom have adopted our Performing Arts Platform.

We need your help.

If you want to reward these politicians for coming to the cultural tables, come out on Wednesday (June 5th) at 11:30 (FB event here). We want to show the cameras how big a force the independent performing arts and culture community is.


Fighting for the vibrant cultural sector of New York City means fighting for independent theater across all five boroughs. The League of Independent Theater’s mission is to support those artists and venues throughout the City, and to identify candidates in each of those communities to work on their behalf.
As the only 501(c)6  advocacy organization for the independent theater and performing arts population of New York City, the League of Independent Theater (which supports the interests of over 50,000 artists who vote regularly*) is proud to stand with and endorse Manhattan Borough President, Scott M. Stringer for Comptroller of The City of New York, Julie Menin for Manhattan Borough President, Jimmy Van Bramer for City Council, and other pro-Arts candidates including: Jenifer Rajkumar – District 1; Ben Kallos – District 5; Ken Biberaj – District 6; Melissa Mark-Viverito – District 8; Cliff Stanton – District 11 and Rory Lancman – District 24.
In the winter of 2009, an audience of over 300 independent theater artists and performing arts supporters attended a Community Board Congress forum on the perilous state of the small to midsized theater sector throughout the City where Borough President Scott M. Stringer challenged our sector to create a pro-arts platform. After years of organizational meetings, private discussions and coalition building, the League of Independent Theater unveiled this platform at our “Meet the Candidates” event on March 12, 2013 at The Players Club**. This comprehensive eight-plank platform will encourage, leverage and strengthen the independent theater sector of New York City.
Despite the many financial, logistical, and creative barriers, it is a widely documented and accepted truth that the independent theater community continues to power the City’s culture and contribute to the local economy. LIT’s goal is to seek advocates in government who understand the challenges that the independent theater community faces, and will partner on specific actions to ease those burdens. Because of Scott M. Stringer, Julie Menin, Jimmy Van BramerJenifer Rajkumar, Ben Kallos, Ken Biberaj, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Cliff Stanton,and Rory Lancman’s belief in us, we believe in them and are very proud to endorse and work to galvanize the independent performing arts section (50,000+ strong) to support these candidates in their upcoming races.
**Videos of this event can be viewed at
The following eight (8) points make up the League of Independent Theater’s performing arts platform.
1. Create access to low-cost and/or no-cost Community Facilities Spaces that are currently available and remain unused throughout the City through the creation of a Community Facilities Space Database.
2. Create access to empty and unused City property to be re-purposed as temporary rehearsal, office and (if appropriate), performance space.
3. Include non-profit performance venues in the favorable electricity and utility rates enjoyed by religious institutions and the VFW.
4. Implement a proposal that would reduce or eliminate property tax assessments for those non-profit organizations that have an artistic mission and/or rent performance space to similar non-profit performing arts groups with artistic missions of their own. All twelve (12) Manhattan Community Boards unanimously ratified this proposal.
5. Secure affordable permanent low-cost housing for working artists.  In addition, work to provide access to affordable healthcare for these artists, depending on the status and reach of the Affordable Care Act at the time of negotiations.
6. Support the commission of an economic impact study for the independent theater territory.
7. Work with the Department of Cultural Affairs to expand the Cultural Institutions Group to include the independent theater sector’s anchor venues.
8. Install plaques at sites of historical import and rename streets after the founders of the independent and Off-Off Broadway community.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

SHIT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Hemispheric Institute Digital Video Library

I haven't been updating much on the blog because my life is full of tangible things, but I haven't been dipping into theory or postulating as much.

In the meantime, while I recharge my theoretical batteries, I'm turning over this blog to a new regular feature called shit you should know. Largely because now that I'm working with the League of Independent Theater and getting into the community, I'm realizing that people don't know a lot of things that, well, they should know. Groups that are out there, resources that are out there, etc.

Hemispheric Institute Digital Video Library (HIDVL)

  • What is it: The Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics is a research and performance institution founded by Diana Taylor as a focal point for artist-activists throughout the Americas (the Hemisphere in the name). The Digital Video Library is an initiative (one of many great initiatives they run) which archives lectures, presentations, interviews, and performance in digital mediums.
  • Why you should know about it: You should know about it from a couple perspectives:
    • Inspiration -- Seriously, you can see years of work from artists like Richard Schechner, FOMMA (Fortaleza de la Mujer Maya), or Circus Amok. Work that spans the entire gamut of performance from across many different cultures across the Hemisphere.
    • Education -- If you didn't recognize the names above, or want to learn more about other movements of resistance or activism, this is a great way to just explore. (While typing this post I stumbled across Hula as Resistance and you can bet my curiosity was piqued!)
    • Preservation -- If you know of artists whose work should be preserved, contact them (or contact me, I'd be happy to pass it along), their work can be preserved in perpetuity, in updated formats, without conceding ownership over the work. Seriously, an artist's dream.
An important aspect of performance is its ephemerality. The performance itself can only be experienced from within the performance. But to understand our own history, performance needs to in some way be preserved and passed down, to understand what happened and when it happened.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

LOCAL2013: Mayoral Forum in Brooklyn

The following are raw notes from Monday Night's mayoral forum at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope. It's a lot of info, but I bolded the things that stuck out to me.

  • John Liu
    • Question 1: Felony charges for his campaign staff. Response: basically, that he's been investigated for four years (wiretapped for eighteen months), and no other candidate has gone through this scrutiny. If anyone else had gone through this, they would have "errors of omission" as well.
    • Question 2: Barclay Center. It's a great facility, but "the promise was no where near met." His policy is that hew wants to end all subsidy for job creation or for affordable housing.
    • Question 3: Is there anything he'd credit to Bloomberg? The smoking ban. But the soda tax goes too far. Too much top-down leadership: schools opened and closed "as a business decision" and education system is over testing.
    • Question 4: Prospect Park Bike Lane: Liu says it's not popular. "Popular isn't about what the polls say… it should have had more process" than just being approved by the Community board
  • Bill Thompson
    • Question 1: Prospect Park Bike Lane: Needed an approval process "broader than the community board."
    • Question 2: Would you impose bike lanes? "Leadership isn't forcing things on people, it's about consulting them." Education as well: need an education system that listens to parents.
    • Question 3: Barclays Center. "I supported the proposal… but it was supposed to be something more. There were supposed to be jobs, there was supposed to be affordable housing." Said that there should be penalties against 'anyone' who goes back on promises; fell short of saying he'd penalize Rattner. Also said that large-scale developments should have multiple developers.
    • Question 4: Is the EPA Cleanup of Gowanus Canal better or worse for the community? Cleaning Gowanus is more important than developing the neighborhood.
    • Question 5: School Selection process. Supports mayoral control of the school systems, but the mayor has abused the privilege. Processes aren't transparent, need to return to community value for schools. Testing has robbed schools of so much, school closings are not policies.
    • Question 6: Is it right that District 2 can exclude students? I didn't catch his answer
    • Question 7: Library Closings? Against.
    • Question 8: Inclusionary Zoning for Affordable Housing? Yes, and it should be mandatory
    • Question 9: Other set-asides? Yes, a "smart growth" model. And NYCHA should not be allowed to dump city land for luxury housing; needs to be used for affordable housing/middle income housing.
    • Question 10: Brooklyn's greatest transportation need? Fix the subways, add more buses. Bring back the commuter tax, and weight based registration fees. Would bring $1.7 billion into MTA
    • Question 11: Bus lanes? Yes, he would impose them top-down, but only on large streets like Flatbush and Nostrand
  • George McDonald
    • Question 1: Are you happy with how Barclay has turned out? 
      • "Yes, once the affordable housing is built."
      • "That hasn't happened yet"
      • "It will within the first six months of the next mayor's term."
      • "What if they aren't built in the next six months?"
      • "They'd have to."
      • "… But what if they aren't?"
      • "In a civilized society, we go to court."
      • "If you had the chance to build it again?"
      • "I would, for all the affordable housing that will be built there…once it's built."
    • Also supports micro-housing, and 421G to allow commercial buildings to switch to housing. "We need housing across the city."
    • And we need jobs. He'll make jobs. He did that at the Doe fund. (Audience members shouted 'how?!' and he didn't answer).
    • Need to train people who come out of prison
    • NYC public employees need to pay into their pension funds, like every other public employee (audience members shouted that he was lying). Wouldn't resign their contract if they didn't.
    • Question 2: Prospect Park Bike Lane — would you have supported it if you were mayor?
      • "But I'm not."
      • "… But if you were."
      • "But I'm not."
      • "… But you want to be, right?"
      • "Well yes, but I wasn't."
    • Question 3: Transportation needs for Brooklyn: Mayoral control over MTA and Port Authority.
      • "Is it going to happen?"
      • "I don't know, but I'm going to fight like hell for it."
    • Also wandered a bit about how politicians need to stop making promises before they look at the budget.
    • Question 4: Expand subways or expand buses? Likes buses because they're built in New York, think some new subway lines (e.g. The 7 train) are a good idea.
    • Question 5: About his failed lawsuit against the campaign finance board. Wants to use the State fundraising limits, rather than the city, if you don't participate in the matching fund. 
      • Moderator: "So you think the state is less corrupt than the city?"
      • "The state is like a slow moving crime wave.
      • "So why would you follow them?"
      • He cut off the conversation at this point with a humorous anecdote where a mobster says he's "too honest" and then later a business person says he's "too honest."
  • Sal Albanese
    • Question 1: Barclays? Not accepting developer money. Clamp down, force penalties and clawbacks on bad developers
    • Question 2: Park development? Never give up an inch of parkland. "My summer vacation was JJ Byrne Park." Parks are important to communities
    • Question 3: Priorities for transit? Fair tolls (Based on access to mass transit), Select Bus Service up to 20 routes, more bike lanes, mayoral control over MTA. Objects to an MTA run by "political appointees who don't even have metro cards." Would raise $1 billion; $750 million to transit, $250 to lowering fairs. "Bloomberg hasn't paid any attention… no comment on the 10% fare hike"
    • Question 4: Prospect Park Bike Lane: Yes, it seems like there was enough community input. Also wants a bike lane over the Verranzano Bridge.
    • Question 5: Mayoral Control of Schools: In favor if it: "I want control to repair what was broken."
    • Question 6: Is it good that property values have doubled in Park Slope? Yes, but we need more affordable housing. (He paid $50/mo in rent when he was growing up in Slope)
  • John Catsimatidis
    • Question 1: Transit? Wants "transit-oriented development. It solves "the problem of congestion pricing"
      • Moderator: "Is congestion pricing a 'problem'?"
      • Don't penalize people who want to drive "God Bless them if they want to drive" -- "I'm from Harlem and I had a dream" to drive a GTO car. "Don't tell Americans that they should not dream — we should build more efficient cars, not restrict Americans from their dreams." "I teach children in Harlem and I teach them that it's good to succeed — don't hate success, don't promote failure."
    • Question 2: Does social good outweigh need? His answer drew the example of the sanitation plant Quinn wants to build on the UES. "When you touch something that has germs, you get germs. When you smell something, you know what that literally is? It's something touching your lungs. And you want to know what Christine Quinn called it? Social Justice."
    • Question 3: You don't believe in global warming? "I tell the truth."
    • Question 4: Protection against future storms? "You can't build wooden shacks on the beach and expect to survive a storm." Quoted a Greek Saying, "Never build palaces near the sand." "Don't put your equipment in the basement." "Build more solid buildings."
    • Question 5: Education? High school graduates should donate more money to their schools. Also: the education system is built to give every kid an academic education: stop teaching calculus to kids, it makes them feel ashamed when they fail and the give up and drop out. Vocational schools instead.
  • Christine Quinn
    • Question 1: 4th Avenue Rezoning, success or not? "In some ways" -- it made affordable housing a part of the conversation, even though they failed to get the affordable housing on 4th ave.
    • Question 2: Expand inclusionary zoning? "It's a question of how far can we go?" but she wants to be "as aggressive as possible." She's not sure mandatory inclusionary zoning is legal "but wants to consider it." Favors permanent affordable housing over increasing the ratio. Willing to consider a property tax cap, but the state bill that REBNY proposed was far too generous to developers. Against the sale of NYCHA land for luxury condos.
    • Question 3: Barclays? Should have not been a state project, which bypassed ULURP. Took credit for killing the West Side Stadium by driving it into ULURP even though it wasn't required. Thinks every large development on public land should go through ULURP. On Barclays itself, too soon to judge if it's successful.
    • Question 4: Pilot programs to drive up parking costs? Not necessarily. Cars happen when mass transit options don't exist. Heavily favors expanding the ferry system to all five boroughs. East River Ferry was the first public transit up after Sandy. Also, breaks away from the "spoke and wheel" model of the MTA subway system. Also, more select bus services — 10 routes would be a good start. Favors dedicated bus lanes in some areas
    • Question 5: Road space is hotly contested? Focus on making streets safe for young and old.
    • Question 6: Industrial zoning? Expand industrial and manufacturing — she grew jobs in Brooklyn Navy Hards during the recession, and kept the money recirculating internally through tax breaks. Subdivided factories to allow more jobs to grow, and wants to bring manufacturing back to manufacturing zones that are lying dormant. (Would she support the same for "cultural zones"?)
    • Question 7: Department of Education: Too much testing, and definitely need to stop "field testing" where students are pulled out of class to be test subjects for Pearson and other education. Need to move toward portfolio assessment. We're the only city with only one standardized test — has an impact on racial/gender diversity
    • Question 8: School selection: process is stressful, confused, and unclear.
    • Question 9 Are you too mean, and too close to business?
      • "I'm tough. I'm push. And I'm too loud."
      • Audience member: "That’s for damn sure."
      • "Thank you, sir."
      • Characterizes herself as uncompromising, willing to fight for the New Yorkers that work so hard in the city. "I want this city t one the tech capital. I want it t one the literacy capital, to have the schools with the best scores. I want this school to have the most CUNY graduates working in tech."
    • Very proud of her record in City Council — most pro-tenant laws of any city council. You can now sue harassing landlords. New York's carbon footprint will be reduced by the carbon footprint of Oakland. (not sure what that means but that sounds great in an ad)
    • Question 10: Sandy? We need infrastructure, hardening the city. Man-made barriers, blue belt and oyster beds. Schumer is bringing the Army Corps of Engineer to study, Cuomo is buying up land on river-front to bring in blue belt. No more overhead power lines, need gas redundancy. Punish bad players in the oil industry (Mobile, Exxon) who didn't help in recovery, and reward the good players (Hess gave free gas). Building resiliency committee.
    • Question 11: What do you want people to say when you leave office? "I want people to say that I emptied my tank for NYC."
  • Bill de Blasio
    • Question 1: Barclays? Good for Brooklyn, but not worth it until the affordable housing arrives.
    • Question 2: Was oversight in place? The Community Benefit Agreement was the strongest in the city, but should have been supported by the government. City should lock out all development from developers who did not honor the promises. Not enough infrastructure planning (water, sewage) to support. Most concerned about affordable housing and income disparity.
    • Question 3: 4th Avenue Rezoning? Not enough affordable housing, and not enough give-back to schools. Los an opportunity to down-zone, and to put in an inclusionary zone. Wants mandatory inclusionary zoning. Formula can start with 80/20, maybe should be 70/30, but maybe there are other community needs e.g. Schools that we need to demand too. "Affordable housing is the one given" but other needs include schools, open spaces, etc.
    • Question 4: Did Bloomberg do enough for affordable housing. Added 165,000 over 12 years, but lost almost as much. Too much of it is at the high end of low income, smaller apartments than normal. Wants 200,000/10 years, including preserving the stock. Wants to leverage the $1 billion pension fund investments to fund this. Concerned about vacant plots — wants to make it easier to bring land on the market.
    • Question 5: School selection process? Needs to be simplified. Also wants a tax on people making over $1 million to pay for universal pre-K.
    • Question 6: Can District 2 prioritize local students? Maybe, but the issue is that other schools aren't meeting District 2. Needs to make sure that the best schools don't misrepresent the city.
    • Question 7: Double in housing prices in Park Slope? Need more affordable housing, "Local version of Keynesianism." Wants to stop the abuse of small businesses.
    • Question 8: Transit needs? The deepest needs are furthest out, like Canarsie. MTA should be accountable to the mayor. Payroll tax needs to be defended.
    • Question 9: Prospect Park West Bike Lane? In the end it worked, was better than the sidewalk. "Needed a deeper kind of control than the community board." Community boards are a part of the puzzle, but not everything.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

LOCAL2013: Meet the Candidates Event -- Full Video

Sorry I haven't been doing well updating you all about the campaign to support the arts in NYC. We've been knocking it out of the park. I'm incredibly excited about the potential in this election.

Since my last update, I've been made Brooklyn Borough Chief for the League of Independent Theater, so I'll be the contact person for artists and venues in Brooklyn, as well as the candidates running in those elections.

Anyways, without further ado, here is the full video from the League of Independent Theater event: I'll write up some thoughts in a later post.

Here's the introductory remarks, including remarks by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer:

Here is a mayoral candidate, the Manhattan Borough President hopefuls, and a Queens Borough President hopeful:

Candidates for Districts 1, 3, 5:

Candidates for Districts 6, 7, 8:

Candidates for 18, 35, 37, and the Public Advocate hopefuls:

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


I had my own round-up of posts in the past about how we make the case, but for this year's national arts advocacy day, here's 10 reasons to support the arts.

I'm going to bring this blog up to speed on the work the League is doing to actually make that case in New York, and the successes we're having, etc. but chew on those reasons for the moment.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

ART ECONOMICS: Getting Paid?

I have always been a big proponent of following your heart and doing exactly what you want to do. It sounds so simple, right? But there are people who spend years—decades, even—trying to find a true sense of purpose for themselves. My advice? Just find the thing you enjoy doing more than anything else, your one true passion, and do it for the rest of your life on nights and weekends when you’re exhausted and cranky and just want to go to bed. 
It could be anything—music, writing, drawing, acting, teaching—it really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that once you know what you want to do, you dive in a full 10 percent and spend the other 90 torturing yourself because you know damn well that it’s far too late to make a drastic career change, and that you’re stuck on this mind-numbing path for the rest of your life.
Meanwhile, Amanda Palmer says, don't charge money for music, ask people to pay. I feel like this month, I see an article weekly about either reporters, musicians, writers, performers, or other creative individuals either accepting that being paid is no longer a part of the paradigm, or raging against the same trend.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

LOCAL2013: Meet The Candidates II - District Breakdown

I've mentioned before the League of Independent Theater Meet the Candidates 2013 event which brought together 20-odd candidates to debate areas of arts policy as pertains to a specific arts platform, and their campaigns for 2013.

Above is a chart gathered by our diligent and faithful box office team, showing which districts the attendees came from.

Three quick observations:

  • Manhattan 3 -- this is Speaker Christine Quinn's district, which she is vacating, providing for an open race. It includes both Times Square and Greenwich village, so it's no surprise that the performing arts would be well represented. And we had two interesting activist candidates running for the seat in attendance -- Corey Johnson and Yetta Kurland
  • Manhattan 6 -- also an open seat, as Councilwoman Gale Brewer is running for Manhattan Borough President (her opponents Robert Jackson and Julie Menin were in attendance). Covers the Upper West Side. Two candidates were in attendance: Marc Landis and Mel Wymore.
  • Queens 26 -- Now, this surprised me. Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (Chair of the Cultural Affairs committee) gave a rousing set of opening remarks, but he's an incumbent and didn't have any opponents on hand. Is it because he's a passionate supporter of the arts? Is it because Long Island City is a new performing arts haven, with quick access to the City? Was it the presence of Peter Vallone, Jr. who is running for Queens Borough President?
As we get further into this, I'm planning on doing deeper dives on the interesting candidates, on the interesting races, and on the endorsements that the League is making. For right now, I'm just mulling over it, and hoping that the video is online very soon.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

LOCAL2013: Meet the Candidates Forum... Met the Candidates!

I'm pretty gosh-darn exhausted, but initial impressions upon getting home from the Meet the Candidates Forum was that a packed-full room of enthusiastic, interested artists was presented by four full panels of city-wide candidates who spoke -- at times humorously, at times substantively, at times passionately -- about what exactly can be done for the arts, and for artists.

It was a shot in the arm, and a kick in the butt. Now comes the hard work -- voting on candidates to endorse, and then fighting to get them elected. But we're in the room, and we're being heard.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

HOW WE MAKE THE CASE: It's Fair To Get Paid

An artist really eloquently puts why it's important for artists to get paid for their work:

It's becoming a bigger and bigger cultural conversation, whether it's the Upright Citizens Brigade or The Atlantic. As the technology of mass communication (and, with 3D printing, duplication), the economics of "Free" is going to become a bigger and thornier issue. A larger-than-ever slice of our economy is going to be maintained by freelancers and consultants, and that can be a double-edged sword.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

LOCAL2013: The First Step Towards Having A Voice is to Show Up

That's right. If you say you do socially conscious work, or you think that the City could be doing more to be supporting the arts, then you have no excuse not to come to the League of Independent Theater's Meet the Candidates Forum this Tuesday, March 12th, 6:45PM at the Players on Gramercy.

Here are the politicians who are going to be there:

Opening Remarks by 
Jimmy Van Bramer, City Council Member and Chair, Cultural Committee
Keynote Address by 
Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President

Tom Allon (Mayoral)
Kevin Coenen Jr. (Mayoral)
Robert Jackson (Manhattan Borough President)
Julie Menin (Manhattan Borough President)
Peter Vallone, Jr. (Queens Borough President
Letitia James (Public Advocate)

Jenifer Rajkumar (CC Manhattan 1)
Corey Johnson (CC Manhattan 3)
Yetta Kurland (CC Manhattan 3)
Ben Kallos (CC Manhattan 5)
Hill Krishnan (CC Manhattan 5)
Marc Landis (CC Manhattan 6)
Mel Wymore (CC Manhattan 6)
Mark Levine (CC Manhattan 7)
Cheryl Pahaham (CC Manhattan 7)
Angel Molina (CC Manhattan/Bronx 8)
William Russell Moore (CC Bronx 18)
Matthew Silverstein (CC Queens 19)
Laurie Cumbo (CC Brooklyn 35)
Kimberly Council (CC Brooklyn 37)

That's right, from across the city, these candidates are going to be telling us why the League of Independent Theater should endorse them.

And if you attend, you can vote and tell us who should get the endorsement.

They're going to be discussing this platform:

As a pro-performing arts elected official, I will work to:

1. Create access to low-cost and/or no-cost Community Facilities Spaces that are currently available and remain unused throughout the City through the creation of a Community Facilities Space Database.
2. Create access to empty and unused City property to be re-purposed as temporary rehearsal, office and (if appropriate), performance space.
3. Include non-profit performance venues in the favorable electricity and utility rates enjoyed by religious institutions and the VFW.
4. Implement a proposal that would reduce or eliminate property tax assessments for those non-profit organizations that have an artistic mission and/or rent performance space to similar non-profit performing arts groups with artistic missions of their own. This proposal was unanimously ratified by all twelve (12) Manhattan Community Boards.
5. Secure affordable permanent low-cost housing for working artists. In addition, work to provide access to affordable healthcare for these artists, depending on the status and reach of the Affordable Care Act at the time of negotiations.
6. Support the commission of an economic impact study for the independent theater territory.
7. Work with the Department of Cultural Affairs to expand the Cultural Institutions Group to include the independent theater sector’s anchor venues.
8. Install plaques at sites of historical import and rename streets after the founders of the independent and Off-Off Broadway community.

It's all there -- clear, immediate ways that these politicians can make an impact for our local artistic community. And you can't influence unless you come.

Please RSVP now -- we've had to turn away candidates and we will be packed from floor to ceiling. The initial response has been overwhelming, and if we follow through on this, we can actually have a big political impact this election.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Saturday, February 9, 2013

TV: The Dysfunctional World of Sports Broadcasting

If data-driven web-series are the future of television, then the horse-and-buggy is probably sports broadcasting. The content is every bit as desirable now as it was in years past, but the model is bizarre. For example, because of rising licensing costs, people who don't watch sports have to pay for it on their TVs:
Time Warner Cable subscribers in Southern California will eventually see their monthly bills increase thanks to an impending $7 billion deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, believed to be the most lucrative for any sports team in history. DirecTV, the country’s most popular satellite service, and Verizon FiOS have started adding a $2 to $3 monthly surcharge in markets like New York and Los Angeles to pay for regional sports networks.
And on the flip side, if I want to watch anything online, I typically can in a legal format -- except sports, because I don't pay $75/year for ESPN or other sports networks on my television.

LOCAL2013: State of the Borough Address

On Thursday, I attended Scott Stringer's final State of the Borough Address as Manhattan Borough President -- although really, it also served as a campaign event for his run for comptroller. (Since I've been asked five times since Thursday, the Comptroller controls the city's finances).

The event looked back on seven years of Stringer's term as MBP and gave him a chance to reflect on his accomplishments -- working to lower property-tax on vacant properties, working to support gay marriage, etc.

A few thoughts:

What was fascinating to me, however, was the accomplishment that Stringer chose to highlight through the keynote speech. The keynote was delivered by Sade Lythcott, CEO of the National Black Theater, which was on the verge of being shuttered due to four years of lawsuits with Applebee's. Stringer had stepped in to mediate the dispute between both parties, which prevented the National Black Theater from being closed.

There was a lot to brag about in Stringer's package, but that's the narrative he decided to make the centerpiece of the evening: how an important cultural institution was protected from being closed.

Now, during Stringer's term, plenty of other theaters did not make it, so it's worth putting it in the larger perspective, but for those of us who have despaired that politicians would ever value the arts and their integral part of society, at this event it wasn't even a question.

I was tracking how people were talking about the arts and culture over the course of the evening. The gentleman from the Met described Sade as "Creative. Entrepreneurial. And dedicated to her borough." Sade said that "Harlem is what it is because of its arts and culture. And Stringer himself said that his goal was to make New York a "Vibrant and creative city," and wanted it to be a home for "creative class jobs" to make New York a "Financial and Creative Capital" in the world.

The first two sections of the Performing Arts Platform deal with getting underutilized made available to artists to help increase the artists' access to inexpensive rehearsal or performance space, as well as the need for affordable housing. Stringer, while MBP, authored reports on how underutilized space could meet affordable housing needs -- not too dissimilar to the proposals we've outlined. The same can be done for the arts; especially as it comes to city property which is underutilized.

TECHNOLOGY: Terrifying Fact of the Day

You have to read this Salon article about how House of Cards is a new frontier of creating content based on what producers will think we like -- only using hard data rather than guesswork:

For at least a year, Netflix has been explicit about its plans to exploit its Big Data capabilities to influence its programming choices. “House of Cards” is one of the first major test cases of this Big Data-driven creative strategy. For almost a year, Netflix executives have told us that their detailed knowledge of Netflix subscriber viewing preferences clinched their decision to license a remake of the popular and critically well regarded 1990 BBC miniseries. Netflix’s data indicated that the same subscribers who loved the original BBC production also gobbled down movies starring Kevin Spacey or directed by David Fincher. Therefore, concluded Netflix executives, a remake of the BBC drama with Spacey and Fincher attached was a no-brainer, to the point that the company committed $100 million for two 13-episode seasons. 
“We know what people watch on Netflix and we’re able with a high degree of confidence to understand how big a likely audience is for a given show based on people’s viewing habits,” Netflix communications director Jonathan Friedland told Wired in November. “We want to continue to have something for everybody. But as time goes on, we get better at selecting what that something for everybody is that gets high engagement.”
During last night's blizzard, I watched the first episode, and I felt kind of let down. Spacey is Spacey, the way he always is; some of the lines came across as ridiculous, and honestly Lincoln did a better job of pacing a story about legislation and political intrigue. But it's a bigger story -- can entertainment be created by data?

We'll see.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Cool Fact of the Day

The Brooklyn Nets are not the first professional basketball team in Brooklyn. The Smart Set Athletic Club were. Because the Negro Basketball League counts.

LOCAL2013: League of Independent Theater Meet The Candidates Forum

If you have ever said that you create "socially engaged work," read this whole post.

If you have ever expressed frustration that public officials don't care about the arts, read this whole post.

If you want to know how to have a political voice in the 2013 city-wide elections, read this whole post.

The League of Independent Theater, of which I am a member, has just launched the publicity for a Meet the Candidates event, March 12, 7PM. From the press release:

Members of LIT will get to vote on the candidates they think will best serve the indie theater territory. LIT's Political Research and Outreach Committee has created the Performing Arts Platform below. Candidates from every city race are being invited to participate. 2013 is an important year in terms of New York City elections. We hope you will be able to attend this event. Your attendance and passion can have an impact.
 Here's the platform:
As a pro-performing arts elected official, I will work to: 
1. Create access to low-cost and/or no-cost Community Facilities Spaces that are currently available and remain unused throughout the City through the creation of a Community Facilities Space Database.
2. Create access to empty and unused City property to be re-purposed as temporary rehearsal, office and (if appropriate), performance space.
3. Include non-profit performance venues in the favorable electricity and utility rates enjoyed by religious institutions and the VFW.
4. Implement a proposal that would reduce or eliminate property tax assessments for those non-profit organizations that have an artistic mission and/or rent performance space to similar non-profit performing arts groups with artistic missions of their own. This proposal was unanimously ratified by all twelve (12) Manhattan Community Boards.
5. Secure affordable permanent low-cost housing for working artists. In addition, work to provide access to affordable healthcare for these artists, depending on the status and reach of the Affordable Care Act at the time of negotiations.
6. Support the commission of an economic impact study for the independent theater territory.
7. Work with the Department of Cultural Affairs to expand the Cultural Institutions Group to include the independent theater sector’s anchor venues.
8. Install plaques at sites of historical import and rename streets after the founders of the independent and Off-Off Broadway community.
Here are the candidates who have confirmed so far:

Tom Allon (Candidate for Mayor)
Julie Menin (Manhattan Borough President)
Letitia James (Public Advocate)
Corey Johnson (CC Manhattan 3)
Yetta Kurland (CC Manhattan 3)
Mel Wymore (CC Manhattan 6)
Cheryl Pahaham (CC Manhattan 7)
Angel Molina (CC Bronx 8)
Matthew Silverstein (CC Queens 19)
Kimberly Council (CC Brooklyn 37)
If you want to go, which you should, you can RSVP here.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

LOCAL2013: Manhattan Round-Table... Cares About The Arts?

I wish I could embed the video, but this NY1 gave me a spit-take -- a political consultant talking about small businesses in Manhattan (in context of the Manhattan Borough President race) mentions that 30% of local performing arts spaces have gone out of business... as a campaign issue.

If you're wondering what the spaces are, Off-Off Blogway has rounded up the losses. It ranges from theaters I've never heard of, to notable spaces like the Ohio and Horse Trade's Red Room.


I don't write reviews about work in progress, so I will just say that I saw Soldier X by Rehana Mirza in development at the Lark Play Development Center, and that it was quite good and gripping. I hope the development continues so we'll see it fully realized soon.

REVIEW: The Fire This Time Play Festival


The best thing a short play festival can be is a sampler plate of excellent talent. For those who try to dodge diversity by saying it's hard to find the right talent, you'll find a stern rebuke in The Fire This Time, a festival of ten minute works by people of color. Fantastically, there's not a bad apple in this bunch.

Two brothers spar over a will, left behind by their recently deceased father, and old wounds from earlier contracts and legal documents. The characters are well-rendered, both in their moments of tender humanity, and in their moments of outsized grandiosity. Flor De Liz Perez carries the comic moments well as the slightly batty lawyer presiding over the proceedings, and Bjorn DuPaty and Shawn Randall knock the two brothers out of the park. Between the three of them, they capture the ways in which families can love each other so deeply that the love can suffocate each other.

POOR POSTURING, by Tracey Conyer Lee
Somewhat more metaphorical in tone, an A+ student, Demetrius (Chinaza Uche -- previous reviews here and here), is trying to get to the bottom of why his professor Sara Thigpen has picked him out of the crowd for abuse. On the face of it, it's an issue of posture: the way he sits forward with a furrowed brow, or slouches back in his chair. But really, it's about the way that the prejudice changes the way we see each other, and how the creeping racism under the surface forces higher expectations, and how people adjust to the rules of institutions. It reminded me strongly of Chris Rock's sermon on C students. Like Favored Nations, it mixes humor and exaggerated scenarios with real emotions and real implications to tell it's tale; in this case, however, it goes straight for the root of the nastiest side of people, and refuses to pull punches.

ORCHIDS AND POLKA DOTS, by Nathan Yungerberg
It's hard for me to pick out my favorite of these pieces, but it's possible that Orchids and Polka Dots is mine. In the middle of our century (time an place unimportant), Dr. Gentry (Kristoffer Tonning)  is testing LSD on Mrs. Jordan (McKenzie Frye). The theory is that they're about to find out something about LSD, but in truth, they're about to discover more about Dr. Gentry, and Mrs. Jordan, and what's possible when we're completely freed of normalcy. It's poetic, and it rides on excellent performances by the two stars.

NIGHTFALL (excerpt), by Cynthia G. Robinson
This was the hardest piece -- partly, perhaps, because it was an excerpt from a larger work, and partly because it was a fairly realist look at rape and abuse by the Janjaweed during the Sudanese genocides. Because of the subject matter, there's a lot of screaming, crying, and begging -- all performed excellently, but because of the compressed time span it's hard for anything to move forward or progress very far. It's hard to criticize a piece about senseless rape and violence for feeling senseless, but I have a feeling that the piece fits better in context of a larger work.

THE SAD, SECRET (SEX) LIFE OF STEVE URKEL, by Eric Lockley (previous review)
This is probably the closest I've ever come to Steve Urkel porn (despite rumors that it's out there...), and probably the best way I could have come across it. The story: Steve Urkel (Larry Powell) has concocted a "love potion" to get Laura Winslow (Toccara Cash) in love with him. Except he didn't make a love potion, he made a lust potion. The short is hilarious and poignant, and it offers a quick snapshot into how unprepared we may be for the sexuality that we want to unleash.

WITHIN UNTAINTED WOMBS (excerpt), by Dennis A. Allen II
Philip K. Dick imagined new technologies to reflect upon our lives as people. Within Untainted Wombs does the same, imagining what it would be like if pregnant mothers could commune with the unborn children. And just as Dick imagines how technology reflects the worst parts of our souls, and the best, so does Within Untainted Wombs ask hard questions about how to raise a child when we're not prepared for it, and how that reflects in our children. It's smartly constructed and deeply moving.

ALWAYS (excerpt), by Danielle T. Davenport
The last piece was the most understated of the evening, but just as excellently crafted. Erica (chandra thomas) has written a best-selling book of "fiction". But the fictive nature of the book is up for debate when Malik (Peyton Coles) steps out of her past to confront her for writing about their time together in their work of fiction. I'm not sure where the fuller work goes, but this excerpt is rewarding and intelligent, and the two performers breathe life into the work in gratifying ways.

HOW WE MAKE THE CASE VIII: The Creative Placemaking Argument

NEA's Chief of Staff Jamie Bennett, in an interview with Barry Hessenius:
In creative placemaking, an entirely different trope is substituted: you begin with a shared interest – often a problem formulation – and you talk about what the arts can do to help achieve it. A common example is a community that begins with a vacant downtown or an abandoned warehouse district along its waterfront. The arts talk about the foot traffic that they can bring to an area, especially if you cluster arts organizations, since each has a different pattern of foot traffic. A theater has 1,000 people show up at eight o’clock and leave at eleven o’clock. A museum might have 1,000 people spread out over the course of an eight-hour day. A rehearsal studio might have 30 people coming and going every hour over twelve hours. You put the three different organizations in proximity to one another, and all of a sudden, you have a full day of positive foot traffic on a street – feet that belong to people who need to eat meals, buy newspapers, go shopping, and take public transportation. You have every mayor’s dream. 
And when you talk about the arts in those terms, resources start being invested in the arts. Not one of those organizations is being taken off mission, but they are highlighting their benefits to the collective good. People invest in them because they are part of a winning team (the abundance), rather than because they are needy (the scarcity). 
This is the framing that Rocco used as he went around to the other federal agencies. He didn’t go to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and say, “give me some of your budget for the arts.” Rocco, instead, talked with Secretary Donovan about their shared vision of helping to build complete, vibrant, sustainable communities that were welcoming and inclusive to Americans of all backgrounds and income levels.
I like this framing because it ties into the economics arguments that are effective, without being a dry debate about facts and figures. It's about the real impact that the arts can have in their community.

LOCAL: Hey, Sometimes There's Good News!

It includes: two jazz festivals and a conference, heating/venting/roof repair for a theater (converted from a bowling alley), helping a theater create reconfigurable seating plans, accessibility for the disabled at another theater, and more.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Unmitigated Bullshit Edition

Congress recognized the basic biological fact that only a man and a woman can beget a child together without advance planning, which means that opposite-sex couples have a unique tendency to produce unplanned and unintended offspring. 
In other words, the "defenders of marriage" are encouraging the fact that same-sex couples can have babies without planning.

Is that how much Republicans hate Planned Parenthood, that they're now against the very notion of family planning?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

LOCAL2013: Robert Jackson

This political season -- New York's 2013 city-wide election -- I'm going to be personally involved through the League of Independent Theaters. More details will come.

Today, however, I went to the kick-off for Robert Jackson's 2013 campaign for Manhattan Borough President. As a Brooklyn Resident, I was there mostly in capacity of representing the League, and for my own curiosity.

Because of the bitter cold (especially after the sun disappeared), the event moved rather quickly, and a series of incredibly passionate stump speakers touted Robert Jackson ("Action Jackson")'s credential as a vigorous defender of education. They touted his work for the lawsuit of Campaign for Fiscal Equality v. State of New York and his 2003 stunt of walking 150 miles to Albany to promote education.

And he does pretty well with kids:

Afterwards, he was interviewed by a few Chinese-representing media organizations, and spoke about his work after Hurricane Sandy walking through the projects and helping elderly seniors call their family, even in China. But they still had some tough questions for him about why there were few Asian Americans standing behind him when he made his announcement:

Day 1 of what I'm sure is going to be a long campaign. Welcome to the race.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

FILM: Instagram Films

It's finally happened -- cinematographers are just using Instagram filters.

ARTS POLICY: This I (Taylor Mac) Believe)

And just having hit "post" on the previous post, I came across this gem from Taylor Mac:

I believe you can make a living as a theater artist but in order to do so, without making work you don’t like, you might need to think about falling in love with verbs more than nouns.  I believe money is never really the reason but often the excuse.  So when you say you can’t do my play because it will cost too much, I know what you really mean is, “I’d rather spend the money that I have on something else”.  I believe that’s fair.   
I believe if you set a financial goal, you will reach it and if that financial goal is small, your budget will be small, artists will barely get paid, and everyone will be a little grumpy.   
I believe if NYC had no art and only Wall Street, nobody would want to live here.  And so I believe 10% of all Wall Street salaries should go to artists.
The whole thing should be read. So go read it.

ARTS POLICY: What Are Artists Even Complaining About?

Dave Malloy, in Culturebot:
There is a difference between what is nice and what is deserved. I don’t think that art deserves money. Again, I take it when it is offered to me, I’ll ask for a cut if it is being made by others, and if I’m working for someone else I’ll insist on it. But to make my own work is a private necessity and spiritual gift, and not something I feel entitled to payment for.
That's a very brief snippet of a very involved looked at the question of whether there really is a "problem" in the theater world, or if it's a bad set of expectations.

I'm wholly torn between the two sides; on the one hand, I went into theater having been told, time and time again, by many many people, that Theater is not a way to Make a Living. It's a Hard Road, and very few people make a living off of it. I also have always taken pride in my day jobs, and put real workmanship or effort into it.

On the other hand, I see people who work not necessarily harder or less hard, but for things I don't particularly agree with, who make 3x, 5x, 10x, 100x the money that people who I work with in theater make. We live in an age where every industry expects and receives some level of handouts. I mean, our government gives money to Oil companies, tax breaks to people who make solar panels, construct our foreign policy in favor of fruit companies. Some of the most successful theater people I know face evictions, work long hours, and can be cripplingly set back by a minor illness.

In the comments, Aaron Landsman makes a similar related point:
I think artists should be complaining a lot more about the lack of a social safety net for everyone in America – the lack of a dignified old age for those who aren’t rich, the lack of health care, the lack of great and accessible education for everyone. Because if I imagine myself living in an America where I don’t have to worry about those things so much, i imagine myself being an artist who takes bigger risks and makes better work. And I imagine myself finding solidarity with other working people, rather than feeling exceptional from them. So complaint, in and of itself, isn’t a problem for me. It’s complaining as if our own concerns and necessities were somehow separate from those of other people who need to make a living.
I think there's also a difference between the complaints about "we need more funding" (i.e. the government should create more grants), which are inefficient ways of asking for help, and "we need to improve the infrastructure of the arts." I agree that handing fists of cash to particular artists are not going to particularly remedy any of the issues -- the local/national issue (e.g. Gwydion's call for theatrical biodiversity), the social safety net issues, etc. But I do think that there are simple ways that the government can step in to help make it easier for all artists to do what they need to.